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The many musical styles of the world are so different, at least superficially, that music scholars are often sceptical that they have any important shared features. "Universality is a big word -- and a dangerous one," the great Leonard Bernstein once said. Indeed, in ethnomusicology, universality became something of a dirty word. But new research promises to once again revive the search for deep universal aspects of human musicality.
Samuel Mehr at Harvard University found that all cultures studied make music, and use similar kinds of music in similar contexts, with consistent features in each case. For example, dance music is fast and rhythmic, and lullabies soft and slow -- all around the world. Furthermore, all cultures showed tonality: building up a small subset of notes from some base note, just as in the Western diatonic scale. Healing songs tend to use fewer notes, and more closely spaced, than love songs. These and other findings indicate that there are indeed universal properties of music that likely reflect deeper commonalities of human cognition -- a fundamental "human musicality."
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